An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Beach re-nourishment scheduled for this fall in Englewood

What to expect…here are common questions & answers:

Q: What are the dates of the project?

A: It is expected that some equipment will be staged on/around the beach immediately following the end of Turtle Season (Oct. 31st). Actually work on the beach will not commence until the conclusion of the WaterFest Boat Races which are scheduled for Nov. 22nd – 24th. The completion date is March 31, 2020.

Q: Will the Beach be closed?

A: No. Beach access will permitted in areas not occupied by the construction crews. Those constructions zones will be designated with orange fencing. Once a construction zone is completed, there will be a large pipe left in place that will cause some inconvenience. Provisions will be made to navigate around/over the pipe, but the pipe will be on the beach until the entire project is completed. 

Advanced wastewater treatment could be coming to Sarasota County

Sarasota County leaders have agreed in principle to dramatically upgrade a faulty wastewater treatment plant east of Interstate 75, blamed for spilling millions of gallons of polluted water and potentially contributing to area water quality problems for years.

The County Commission unanimously agreed at a budget workshop Wednesday to develop plans for converting the Bee Ridge Wastewater Reclamation Facility to have advanced wastewater treatment capability, a move the county’s critics on the issue have long sought. The public utilities staff, commissioners decided, will report to the commission in August with a timeline and cost projections for upgrading the 12-million-gallon-per-day facility on Lorraine Road to an 18-million-gallon advanced facility. The transformation would significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in treated water — two key pollutants that can fuel harmful algae growth in waterways. Officials cited a ballpark cost of $65 million to $100 million for the project.

Advanced wastewater treatment was a hot topic earlier this month at the county’s Water Quality Summit, where science-based solutions were discussed by experts and members of the community alike in an effort to improve the area’s water quality. While some county officials seemed receptive to the idea despite the high projected cost, others leaned toward transferring as many people from septic systems to central sewers for wastewater disposal as the most effective way to combat water quality problems.

Gov. DeSantis signs bill giving Sarasota’s Mote $18 million to fight red tide

The laboratory will develop technologies that can fight the toxic algae.

SARASOTA — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday that will put Mote Marine Laboratory at the forefront of efforts to combat red tide in Florida.

The bill, which was championed by Senate President Bill Galvano, allocates $18 million over six years for Mote to develop technologies that can fight red tide blooms.

Lawmakers crafted the measure in response to last year’s devastating bloom that killed sea life in Southwest Florida, fouled the air and water and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

“If we don’t do all that we can to maintain our natural resources, you will see our economy suffer,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis and legislative leaders are touting the measure as a major step toward reducing the harmful effects of red tide, even as some environmental advocates argue lawmakers have not done enough to tackle nutrient pollution that can feed the toxic algae blooms.

Red tide blooms start offshore and are naturally occurring. But when the blooms move near shore they can feed on nutrients that leach into the water from sources such as fertilizer runoff, leaky septic tanks and sewage spills.

Senate Bill 1552 — dubbed the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative — does not address the problem of excessive nutrients in coastal waterways. Instead of trying to cut off the algae’s food source, the legislation - which was sponsored by State Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Michael Grant - seeks to fight the blooms through technology.

June 23-29 is Mosquito Awareness Week

mosquito image

Next week is Mosquito Control Awareness Week! Now that it’s mosquito season, it is the perfect time to look in and around your home for ways to control mosquitoes that can carry viruses like Zika and West Nile.

Here are some simple steps that citizens can take to help control mosquito populations:

  • Empty water from any item that can hold water.
    Examples: flower pots, garbage cans, recycling containers, wheelbarrows, aluminum cans, boat tarps, old tires and buckets.
  • Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly.
  • Flush ornamental bromeliads or treat with BTI, a biological larvicide available at home stores.
  • Clean roof gutters, which can become clogged and hold water.
  • Change the water in outdoor pet dishes regularly.
  • Keep pools and spas chlorinated and filtered.
  • Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.
  • Cover rain barrels with screening.
  • Check for standing water under houses, near plumbing drains, under air conditioning unit drip areas, around septic tanks and heat pumps.
  • Take steps to eliminate standing water, improve drainage and prevent future puddling.

“It’s important for residents to remember the three Ds of mosquito prevention,” said Brian Lawton, program manager for Pinellas County Vegetation Management and Mosquito Control. “Dress wisely, defend with a good mosquito repellent, and drain standing water.”

‘No Swim’ advisory issued for Sarasota County Beach

As a precaution, Sarasota County health officials have issued a "No Swim" advisory for the Venice Fishing Pier

The amount of enterococcus bacteria found during water quality testing on Monday, June 17 were outside acceptable limits. The beach remains open, however, wading, swimming and water recreation is not recommended as long as there is an advisory in place.

Some bacteria are naturally present in the environment. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a link between health and water quality. Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation will stay in place until follow-up water testing results meet the EPA's recreational water quality standard. The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County expects to have the next round of test results available on Friday, June 21, 2019.

Enterococcus bacteria can come from a variety of natural and human-made sources. These include pet waste, livestock, birds, wildlife (land-dwelling and marine), stormwater runoff, and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills.

No sewage spills have been reported within one mile of the posted beach in the past two weeks.

The rapid response team from Sarasota County and the City of Venice has determined the cause of the elevated bacteria levels is likely due to natural sources. The team observed a wrack line of decaying algae along the shoreline. Wrack lines, which provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs. Additionally, recent rainfall in the area washing accumulated pollutants, including bacteria from birds, pet feces, and wildlife into local waters may also be a contributing factor.

DOH-Sarasota Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham emphasizes that the Florida Healthy Beaches program protects beach goers when conditions are unsuitable for swimming. We do this by testing beach water and providing up-to

Big mission awaits Florida's new Blue Green Algae Task Force

Reducing harmful nutrients in state waters, through moves such as more monitoring and staffing, is an expected short-term goal of a new task force set up by Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at toxic algae fouling Florida waterways.

But with a brief timeline for the five-member Blue Green Algae Task Force to reach its initial findings, don’t expect proposals for massive state rule changes related to farming practices or moving away from septic systems.

Task force member Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University and director of the Coastal Watershed Institute and Vester Field Station, said rather than replace regulations, as some environmental groups contend is needed, a more realistic approach would focus on “fine-tuning” existing rules.

“In any field, if you make the rules too strong, too stringent, too unfair, they won’t be followed,” Parsons said. “I think there is a compromise between allowing people the flexibility to work within certain frameworks as well as getting the needed results or the intended results within that framework. You can’t force people to do things, but on the other hand, we do have goals we need to meet, so there has to be a compromise between the two.”

This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone could be one of the biggest ever, NOAA says

A summertime Gulf of Mexico dead zone fueled by pollution flowing out of the Mississippi River watershed could be among the largest on record this year.

In a seasonal forecast issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy spring rain over the watershed, which drains 37 states - or about 41 percent of the U.S. - was expected to flush large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus into the northern Gulf. That could create a dead zone covering more than 7,800 square miles.

It's too early to tell what influence the zone might have on seasonal red tides that form off the Florida shelf. Following a 2017 record-setting dead zone, a toxic red tide started in October that lasted for more than a year, littering southwest Florida beaches with dead marine life and eventually sweeping up the Atlantic coast.

"This is an atypical year given the really high discharges, so it would be something to keep an eye on," said NOAA oceanographer David Schuerer. 

Southwest Florida experts spotlight water quality, red tide research

Water quality science and solutions took center stage at the Sarasota County Water Quality Summit, which convened local, regional and state leaders in research and management fields on June 5 at Riverview High School in Sarasota County.

Dr. Cindy Heil, Director of the Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory, shared decades of research on Florida red tides (blooms of Karenia brevis algae) and the nutrients that can support them, during a panel discussion on water quality science. The panel was moderated by David Shafer, Co-Executive Director of the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida, and featured additional speakers Steve Suau, Principal of Progressive Water Resources, Mike Mylett, Interim Director of Sarasota County Public Utilities, and Mary Lusk, Assistant Professor at University of Florida.

“We’ve identified over 13 different sources of nutrients that Florida red tide is capable of using, from when it forms offshore through when it moves to the coast, and we have quantified these sources,” Heil said. “The sources vary with the stage, age and location of a red tide bloom, so at any given time, looking at them is a complex endeavor. Regardless, reducing human-contributed, nearshore nutrients should be implemented for the health of our environment and economy. This might reduce red tide severity locally, but it is not expected to stop red tide entirely.”

Heil explained the possible reasons that Florida red tides naturally tend to form offshore of southwest Florida, more frequently than in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Reasons may include suitable habitat — the wide and shallow West Florida Continental Shelf — relatively little competition from other life forms offshore, and the presence of offshore nutrient sources including other life forms that “fix” nitrogen from the air into a form K. brevis can use. When ocean circulation patterns move Florid

Join the Seagrass Survey – Saturday, June 15th

Join SBEP and Sarasota County for the 5th Annual Sarasota County Seagrass Survey and Festival at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron on June 15th from 8am - 2pm.

The Seagrass Survey is a FREE, citizen-science event that encourages community members to explore beautiful and mysterious seagrass habitats while increasing awareness of the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of seagrass ecosystems in Sarasota Bay. Volunteers will take to the water in Sarasota Bay to survey seagrass habitats and collect data to support the Sarasota County’s Seagrass Monitoring Program.

Following the Seagrass Survey, stay for a Seagrass Festival! This FREE, family-friendly festival will feature educational exhibits, hands-on activities, music by Sara Nelms, food, and more. Dipnetting trips to explore the creatures that live in the seagrass flats will be available for registration. On the trip, keep an eye out for small fish, crabs, sea stars, urchins, and many more species!

Beach erosion continues to plague Caspersen Beach

Caspersen Beach continues disappear as erosion problem gets worse.

“It’s hard to get down to the beach,” said tourist Andy Nelson.

Nelson and his family heard about the beach from a family friend. He said they were told, “the beach is amazing and so beautiful.”

Nelson said that’s not what he got Wednesday morning. They left the beach early.

“The beach just drops off. It’s tough to find a place to sit,” Nelson said. “I mean you got palm trees laying all over the place cause they’re falling off the edge."

Fertilizer restricted season underway in Sarasota County

Sarasota County reminds the community to skip using nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers on lawns and landscapes from June 1 through Sept. 30, as part of an effort to keep the community's waterways healthy.

The ordinance, which was enacted in 2007, reduces the nutrients in stormwater and helps to protect natural habitats in creeks, lakes and marine waters that receive runoff from our stormwater system.

According to Sarasota County Air and Water Quality Manager John Hickey, landscapes during the rainy season do not have enough time to absorb the nutrients in fertilizer and are washed away. Nutrient runoff can cause harmful algal blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, rob the water of oxygen and threaten aquatic life.

"While you may think that your own yard may play an inconsequential part in the overall effects of nutrient pollution, it is important to remember that collectively, all of the yards add up. Through proper landscape maintenance techniques, and with everyone's cooperation, we can keep our yards and waterways healthy," Hickey added. 

With biosolids bills failing in Florida Legislature, DEP to develop own rules

With bills to regulate biosolids failing this year in the Florida Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to come up with a set of rules to keep the sewage sludge dumped on farmland from polluting the state's water.

Several people concerned with pollution caused by biosolids told TCPalm they hope DEP will develop regulations with teeth.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said Bob Solari, chairman of the Indian River County Commission, which has twice enacted moratoriums on biosolids use in the wake of pollution at Blue Cypress Lake tied to sludge spread on nearby pastures.

Commissioners said they would have banned Class B biosolids outright but lacked the authority. Instead they looked to the state Legislature for help.

"It will take some work to make sure DEP gets things right," Solari said. "We'll be following them very closely."

Of the 340,000 dry tons of sewage sludge Florida produces each year, about:

  • 100,000 tons goes to landfills
  • 100,000 tons is partially treated and spread on land as Class B biosolids
  • 140,000 tons is combined with composted landscape material and chemically treated to produce 200,000 dry tons of Class AA biosolids, which is classified as "fertilizer" and can be used without regulation

Both Class B and Class AA contain about 5.5% nitrogen and 2.2% phosphorus. Combined, the two produce about 4 million pounds of nitrogen and about 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus, nutrients that feed toxic algae blooms.

The ill-fated bills — a Senate version by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, and a House version by state Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican — called for statewide regulations on the use of Class B biosolids along the lines of

Red tide bills see mixed results in legislature

$3 million will be given every year for five years to Mote Marine Laboratory, but critics say more focus needs to be put on improving the county's water quality.

After one of the worst red tide blooms in decades, Sarasota and Manatee county residents hoped to see a wide range of legislative action from Tallahassee. But after the closing of the legislative session this month, some say there is still room for improvement.

While millions of the $91.1 billion state budget was directly allocated toward red tide initiatives, some related bills were ultimately rejected.

Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, sponsored legislation to change regulations governing sewage systems, while Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, sponsored new rules regarding stormwater runoff and alternatives to spraying pesticides in water bodies.

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, sponsored bills that would provide penalties for wastewater treatment facilities that unlawfully discharge sewage and require inspections of on-site sewage treatment and disposal systems.

All of those bills faded in the legislative session.

Gruters did find bipartisan support in a bill that would support red tide mitigation efforts.

In Sarasota-Manatee, the storm surge threat grows

More than 368,000 residences in Southwest Florida are in danger of hurricane storm surge, with a potential rebuilding cost topping $77 billion.

For the fourth straight year, the Sarasota-Manatee area ranked eighth among major U.S. metro areas for storm surge risk, according to a study released Thursday by real estate database CoreLogic.

With the 2019 hurricane season starting Saturday, Florida remains the state with the most homes at risk of a storm surge and with the highest reconstruction cost in the U.S.

Some 7.3 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts sit in danger from hurricane-driven waves.

“Damage from storm surge and inland flooding has proven to be far more destructive than wind in recent years, so we cannot rely on the hurricane category alone to give us a sense of the potential loss,” said Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic. “A Category 5 hurricane in an area with few structures may be far less devastating than a Category 1 hurricane in a densely populated area.”

Hurricane Irma ripped through Southwest Florida as it traversed the state in September 2017, the first hurricane to strike the area since Charley in 2004. Hurricane Michael stuck the Panhandle last October.

Warm Mineral Springs Park nomination moves forward

As part of the Warm Mineral Springs Park Master Plan process, City staff worked with Kimley-Horn & Associates and Lorrie Muldowney, President of Creative Preservation, LLC., to submit a nomination in November 2018 to add the park’s three existing buildings to the National Register of Historic Places on behalf of the City of North Port. The Springs itself was added to the National Register in 1977.

The Division of Historical Resources - Florida National Register Review Board held a hearing for this nomination on, May 23. They voted unanimously to forward the nomination of the Warm Mineral Springs Park Buildings to the National Park Service for consideration for addition to the National Register under criterion A and C for entertainment/recreation and architecture, with a period of significance from 1959-1960 at the local level. As the next step in this process, the National Park Service will now review the nomination and the City expects to have the final response later this summer.